Saturday, July 02, 2011

Argentinian Bishop's Widow Writes Book About His Life

by Elisabetta Piqué (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Nación (Argentina)
July 2, 2011

ROME -- As if closing a circle at 85, Clelia Luro de Podestá, wife of Jerónimo Podestá, the bishop of Avellaneda who in the 1960s and 70s was a scandal for the Vatican, has presented her book Jerónimo obispo, un hombre entre los hombres; su vida a través de sus escritos.

"It's a posthumous autobiography. Through his letters, writings and documents, I make him speak about himself," Clelia says, characterizing Podestá as a patriot and prophet, and she hopes to also have published in Italy this 500-page book that was recently published in our country [Argentina] by Ediciones Fabro.

In a presentation at Casa Argentina on Vía Véneto, Clelia, lucid and combative, remembers that she met Jerónimo when, in the 60s, he was preaching enthusiastically about Populorum Progressio, Paul VI's encyclical which he said was "profoundly revolutionary but unfortunately has been muted."

Clelia, 32 then, separated and a mother of six daughters, became Podestá's personal secretary and right hand woman. They were twin souls who didn't imagine that years later they would become "an exceptional couple, committed for life," according to her.

"As Jerónimo soon became a charismatic political leader, the military regime of Onganía was very disturbed that there was a bishop who was stirring up the people," Clelia said. And she added that in order to make Podestá resign from his diocese, they used the priest's "scandalous" friendship with her, which was open on all sides, in an affair the repercussions of which also reached the highest peaks of the Vatican.

An encounter of "grace"

The book recalls when Podestá -who died on June 23, 2000-, before being suspended a divinis in 1972, traveled with Clelia to the Vatican to speak directly with the Pope about the subject.

In a writing reproduced in the book, Podestá states: "I explained to the Pope the meaning and breadth of our relationship, concluding that ours was an encounter of "grace" and not sin [...]. In the end, Paul VI asked me absolutely to tear this affection from my heart. All this sat very badly with me because I was and am convinced that nobody had the right to demand such a thing of me."

It was the famous Brazilian archbishop Helder Cámara who later blessed the couple. "Without knowing me, Cámara told me: 'You two must make the journey together.'"

In 1972, after getting married, Clelia and Jerónimo, who lived in exile in Peru, formed in several countries the Federación Latinoamericana de Sacerdotes Casados, which fights for the Church to pay attention to the poor and so that celibacy for priests will not be mandatory, but optional. "Because the Church must be whole, like Jerónimo, who was whole", said Clelia, who remembers that with him, they were never able to let a problem of the poor or with the military dictatorship pass.

At the presentation of the book, Giovanni Franzoni, the prestigious progressive Italian theologian and ex-Benedictine abbot of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, suspended a divinis in 1974 for supporting divorce and who later got married as well, also spoke. Franzoni offered words of praise and admiration for Podestá, a good friend of his.

"Jerónimo was an honest bishop, whose memories should be living subjects for today," he said. "Because the Beatitudes in the Gospel don't say that purity of love is chastity, but rather that one shouldn't be a hypocrite," he added.

Argentina's ambassador to Italy, Torcuato Di Tella, recommended reading the book "not just from a religious point of view, but also a political one". "Podestá was one of those people like Luther or Calvin who fought, for better or worse, to transform the Church," he concluded.


The Journey: He studied in La Plata and Rome. In 1963 he was ordained a bishop, together with Eduardo Pironio and Antonio Quarracino.

Ideology. He joined the Movimiento de Sacerdotes para el Tercer Mundo. He was bishop of the Diocese of Avellaneda-Lanús from 1963 to 1967.

Love. In 1966, Podestá met Clelia Luro. He resigned as bishop in 1967, and married Clelia in 1972. The de facto president Juan Carlos Onganía considered him to be the "main enemy" of the military government. In 1974 Podestá went into exile from the country, threatened by Triple A [the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance -- a right wing death squad]. He returned in 1983.

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